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Sixth Circuit Clarifies What It Means To Be Harassed At Work

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Sixth Circuit Clarifies What It Means To Be Harassed At Work

Plaintiffs bringing hostile work environment cases often attempt to build their case based on incidents that they did not personally experience, but that they heard about from other employees in the workplace. The Sixth Circuit has ruled that this type of evidence may be considered in determining whether an employee has stated a claim under Title VII, but left a number of questions unanswered.

In a recent decision, however, the Sixth Circuit clarified that multiple plaintiffs in the same lawsuit cannot aggregate their experiences, but that each employee must be aware of the other employees' experiences in order to rely on them in his or her individual case.  In Berryman v. SuperValu Holdings, Inc., eleven current and former employees alleged they had been subjected to a racially hostile work environment and submitted a list of alleged incidents that formed the basis of their claims. The court considered each employee's claims separately and looked at only those events that the individual employee experienced or knew about. As the Court summarized: “In short, a plaintiff does not need to be the target of, or a witness to harassment in order for us to consider that harassment in the totality of the circumstances; but he does need to know about it.” It is likely that this decision will have a greater impact on large employers with more than one location, but regardless of the employer, the decision resolves an important open question in hostile environment lawsuits brought by multiple employees.